The role of IT service management (ITSM) has evolved massively over the last few decades. While it previously played a supporting role for value-generating business functions, it now serves as their very foundation. We live in a digital service economy, and with so many expectations from both users and stakeholders, IT-powered deliverables have a significant impact on organizational success.
Needless to say, the scope, expenditure, deliverables, efficiency, and delivery timelines of ITSM are subject to a great deal of scrutiny in professional organizations. A sense of structure is required to achieve outcomes and avoid scope creep while still keeping business-as-usual processes on track.
To achieve short-term targets in ITSM, many businesses will utilize proven project management (PM) principles and frameworks. This is hardly a new idea, though finding the balance between ITSM and PM can be a challenge at first.
So, how exactly can project management help drive success in ITSM, and how should organizations approach it?
How are project management and ITSM different?
‘Project management’ is a process intended to achieve well-defined targets on time, within budget, and in accordance with higher-level strategic goals.
While this differs depending on the framework or approach in question, the stages of project management are generally:
As part of the process, managers will oversee elements such as risk, scope, expenditure, quality, procurement, and communication. Most of these parameters will be defined at the start of a project, though they may be amended over time.
IT service management is intended to create value for users by providing services that satisfy requirements and expectations. Note that we said ‘users’ rather than ‘customers’, as many IT services are used to support internal business processes such as HR, Finance, and Support.
The main difference between ITSM and PM is the former is often ongoing. IT services will be managed and reviewed as part of a continuous improvement process. This helps companies continue meeting expectations without having to rebuild services from scratch. ITIL, the world’s most popular ITSM framework, refers to this as ‘Continual Service Improvement’.
Can project management support ITSM?
By far, the biggest benefit project management can offer ITSM is enhanced control and organization. PM focuses on defining, sticking to, and adapting parameters as necessary, while also keeping track of elements like risk and scope management. All of this helps teams obtain key deliverables in a way that justifies expenditure and contributes to strategic progress.
A common example of applying PM to ITSM is in handling support tickets. Following PM principles helps managers define the time and expenditure that should be allocated to individual tasks, such as resolving issues and closing tickets. This can often lead to interesting conclusions. For example, managers may find that workarounds are more economical for certain issues than permanently solving them, depending on their frequency and severity.
Another key aspect of PM frameworks like PRINCE2 that is often applied to IT services is the focus on the ‘business case’. Scope creep can be a common issue in IT, as users are continually exposed to new services and features that teams may want to incorporate into their own work. If this is not pertinent to the service in question, this can lead to unnecessary expenditure and wasted time. When resources are limited, project management principles help maintain a focus on what is strictly necessary.
That is not to say that PM and ITSM mesh perfectly well with one another. You would not want to abandon using a framework like ITIL and replace it with PRINCE2, as the latter simply does not cover all the intricacies of managing IT. However, the stages of PM can certainly be applied to individual ITSM tasks, such as planning and creating services, updating IT infrastructures, establishing new processes, and so on.
How does project management improve ITSM?
- Planning – Project management helps to define objectives, roles, responsibilities, timelines, deliverables, and so on. Setting these parameters can greatly speed up ITSM processes while also stopping them from going off track. This can be essential for facilitating high-level goals, such as digital transformation.
- Productivity – Defining deliverables and milestones helps managers track progress and ensure deadlines are met. It can also help identify areas where more support is needed or processes need to be improved. This can be key to achieving success in ITSM, where many processes are continuously reviewed and improved.
- Unification – ITSM can be extremely diverse, with a variety of individual tasks and processes contributing towards goals. PM practices help keep these unified under a single umbrella, organizing project-oriented efforts without disrupting the business-as-usual services that keep a business functioning.
- Governance – ‘Project governance’ refers to keeping projects aligned with high-level strategic goals in terms of deliverables and expenditure. In short, a project must remain justifiable. This can certainly apply to ITSM. A key aspect of this is being capable of recognizing when a project has gone too far beyond its scope to remain viable, at which point it can be closed.
- ROIs – By enhancing control, productivity, visibility, and efficiency, PM can help maximize the value generated by ITSM initiatives. This can mean optimizing quality, minimizing expenditure, and ensuring users are left completely satisfied with both incremental and end results. This can also apply to a continuous improvement process, with managers regularly reviewing and refining PM processes and parameters.
Studying project management and IT service management
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